CURE RE-LISTEN PROJECTPrelude
So, I was in the middle of listening to Wild Mood Swings for the first time in years when I somehow got sidetracked into a Jane's Addiction wormhole. I listened to nothing but Jane's Addiction and The Infectious Grooves for like 2 weeks. It was weird and awesome. I think I just needed a palate cleanser after the soul-crushing gloominess of Disintegration and Wish. Anyway, before I could get back into Wild Mood Swings, David Bowie died
I've been listening to Bowie all day every day since that happened. I'm basking in old favorites and hunting down live stuff on YouTube I've never seen and giving the bits of his career I'd previously glossed over a good and proper listen. I'm only now emerging from my Bowie cocoon and am ready to post my thoughts on The Cure's 90's output which, it turns out, is my favorite Cure era, if you ignore the remix album, that is.Phase 3: Mopey Arena Rock - 1989-1996
Disintegration - 1989 - A
This is the one, kids. Correctly hailed as the band's masterpiece, Disintegration is an LSD-fueled collection of majestic goth dreamscapes and suicide nightmares. It mixes the murky textures of Pornography with the lush production values of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me to create a gorgeous gloom-womb of guitars and synths. Founding member Lol Tolhurst was fired during the recording of this album and contributed nothing musically though the unpleasant atmosphere of his constant drunken fighting likely added to the overall depressing mood of the record.
Plainsong starts out very strong musically with an explosion of sound followed by muttering vocals that get a bit lost in the reverb. Following it is a string of perfect songs - each a snapshot of the final gasping breath of a doomed relationship. Eastern instrumentation comes back in Pictures Of You, Fascination Street and in the b-side Fear Of Ghosts. Every song is gloriously depressing from the self-pity of Closedown to the resigned exhaustion of breaking up in Last Dance to the desperate yearning of The Same Deep Water As You to the title track's maelstrom of melancholy mania.
The only glimmer of hope is Lovesong with its chorus of "However far away, I will always love you" but if one is judged by the company one keeps, this song is equally doomed; its protagonist just may not know it yet. After all, there's nothing to indicate that the professed love is reciprocated.
The average song length here is over 6 minutes, with only Lovesong being less than 4 minutes long. Compare this with Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me's cornucopia of songs, more than half of which are under 4 minutes. Smith wanted this album to make a statement about what The Cure was and it couldn't be more clear. The album closes with one of my favorite Cure songs - Untitled. "Never quite said what I wanted to say to you / Never quite managed the words to explain to you" says it all, really.
I can remember this album being one of the first albums that was IMPORTANT to me in articulating my loneliness and longing. I had had favorite albums prior to hearing this but they were for fun, not for crying alone in my teenage room. This album mattered in a way that I hadn't previously known music could matter. The stream-of-consciousness wordplay in the title track was a huge influence in my own teenage poetry from which emerged my songwriting style for my band Mayhem Lettuce. (I even nicked some lyrics from Pictures Of You for our classic song Lobotoyou Lobotomy. Shh.)Mixed Up - 1990 - C+
The band took a break from the heaviness of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration to put out a remix album of dance versions of present and past hits with very mixed results. The Good:
Close To Me is awesome. It pulls the vox and keyboard lines from the original and adds a big jolly horn section and a lazy, shuffling beat, completely transforming the mood of the song. It's an adorable bit of cozy jazz-pop.
Pictures Of You is really awesome and different. The distant emptiness is jarring given the lush warmth of the original.
Caterpillar's music is strangely subdued and moody for such a hyper song. It only works because of its drastic departure from the original's tone. As a standalone song, it would fail but presented as a subdued, heroin-fueled alternate reality, it's interesting enough to be worth a listen. The Meh:
Lullaby is double the length of the original and is a bit deconstructed. Not great but kinda cool.
Fasination Street is just a bigger version of the same thing with some interesting breakdowns of the music but not terribly different from the original.
Lovesong is just a bigger version again. Good but not great.
Never Enough is fine but not as good as the original which is only a b-list song anyway. The Ugly:
The Walk is extra dancey and extra annoying as huge phasing synths and twiddly guitar bits pan wildly back and forth. It makes me dizzy.
A Forest adds a big dumb dance beat under the song that doesn't fit the gloomy tone of the song at all.
Hot Hot Hot!!! is slightly better in its deconstructed form (and with thunder sound effects) but the vox are still too obnoxious and cartoony for my tastes. This is just a dumb catchy song and I will never care about it.
In Between Days is just awful. Like unlistenably terrible. The music and lyrics don't go together at all. It's like when your windshield wipers are moving to the beat of your car's stereo. It matches but it's just a coincidence; There's no soul connecting these two noises that happen to be in alignment. I think I've found my least favorite Cure song.Wish - 1992 - A-
There used to be a radio show on Sunday nights on KFMH called Off The Beaten Track that played all kinds of strange underground music. This was the show that introduced me to punk, techno, industrial, anti-folk and indie rock long before the Alternative Scene broke into the mainstream. That show single-handedly introduced me to easily half of the music I listen to today. After that show was another show wherein they would play a new release in its entirety, commercial free. I used to hit record and go to sleep, letting my boombox capture new stuff overnight. The two albums I remember keeping from this process and not just taping over the next week are Trompe Le Monde by The Pixies and Wish by The Cure.
Disintegration was the murkiest album of The Cure's career, with Lovesong as the only hint of positivity in an otherwise emotionally bleak landscape of songs about shattered relationships. Wish follows a similar formula though infuses even some of the bitterly sad songs with more pep than anything on its predecessor.
The big happy singles High and Friday I'm In Love made this the Cure's highest charting and best selling album but those tracks are decidedly not the highlights of this incredible record for me. In fact, High is a song I skip more often than not. It's not bad at all (unlike the misguided platitude-factory of Doing The Unstuck), just kind of blandly sappy compared to the rich tales of unrequited love and damaged psyches being told elsewhere.
Open, Apart and Trust all channel Disintegration's gloomy outlook to wonderful effect with layers upon layers of guitars infusing the songs with dark energy. From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea is in my top 5 Cure songs. It's a perfect portrait of wishing you could freeze a moment of young love forever but then watching it all crash to pieces. It's nearly 8 minutes long but never feels long. It just feels true.
The album's third single, A Letter To Elise, is probably my favorite single The Cure ever released. It's at once both a gorgeous pop song and a depressing as hell breakup song.
With only two missteps (Doing The Unstuck and To Wish Impossible Things) this is a very solid collection of songs about feeling things deeply. It makes a great companion piece to Disintegration and Pornography, balancing their utterly fatalistic nihilism with a smidgeon of hope. Overall, Wish hangs together really well in a bi-polar sort of way - a concept we'll see explored more fully on the next album.Wild Mood Swings - 1996 - B+
The first song on the album is once again the best. Want is a sweeping litany of self-destruction as self-medication. It's a perfect bridge from the guitar heavy Wish to the new sound that follows.
Club America uses a strange, deep cowboy-voice and is a bit off-putting. Is it supposed to be funny? The lyrics are super bitter and extra sarcastic, which is, you know, pretty great, but I can't decide if the song is serious or not.
The sense of no-fun continues with This Is A Lie - a string-section led waltz lamenting the complete absence of love in the world. It's a bit heavy-handed, even for The Cure.
The first wild mood swing hits four tracks in with the jaunty mariachi trumpets and dizzy-with-lust lyrics of The 13th. The good mood continues through Strange Attraction's shuffling tale of star-crossed lovers whose orbits keep crossing and into the joyful bombast of Mint Car which seems to be a super-saccharine sequel to High.
Jupiter Crash brings us back down to Earth (so to speak) with its lovers who have grown bored with each other and its droning, echo-y guitar lines.
But the melancholy is short-lived as Round & Round & Round brings upbeat sarcasm back to the table before the album's unsung hero Gone! channels The Top's kookiness with its jazzy urgings to not give in to sadness and ennui. This is The Cure's weirdest song in ages. I'd like it more if it were half as long, I think. The lyrics are too repetitive but the warm, fuzzy organ and the big trumpet solo are awesome.
Numb's protagonist has ignored Gone!'s advice and has completely succumbed to a nihilistic drugged out stupor. It's the bleakest song on the album but is immediately countered with another burst of big happy-fun-horns in Return which swings back into bitterness in Trap - a tale of self-loathing & co-dependence. The effect is dizzying.
Treasure then seems to apologize for all the wild mood swings, urging the listener to remember the good times and forget the bad times. It could be the end of a relationship or a suicide note.
The final track, Bare, is an 8-minute autopsy of a love affair (and maybe of the band itself). Both parties know it's over and neither knows exactly what to do about it. Do they stay friends? Do they part forever? Do they stay together, frantically clinging to their haunted memories of what used to be? It's an acoustic guitar driven piece with piano and Disintegration-style guitar swirling around it but largely lacks the strings and horns that have characterized this album. (Strings do appear for the final verse.) The resigned vocal delivery hammers home the theme of being stripped bare.
And so ends the last Cure album which with I am familiar. It would be 4 more years until their next album and by then my musical tastes had moved on to less gothy areas(Robyn Hitchcock, Nine Inch Nails, Flaming Lips, Ween, Radiohead, Letters To Cleo, Smashing Pumpkins, Laibach, David Bowie etc).
Next time, we enter that no man's land that is The Cure's 21st Century output: Bloodflowers, The Cure and 4:13 Dream - a trio of albums that have passed through my life leaving absolutely no trace. I cannot hum a single note from any of them. I wonder if they're any good. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. I'll be listening to them with no sense of nostalgia at all. They'll basically be brand new to me. I'll also throw in The Glove's Blue Sunshine just for kicks.
Tags: bowie, music, re-listen project